Abstract The popularity of elective vaginal surgery is on the rise. The impact these procedures have on women, both positive and negative is only just beginning to be researched. The reasons why women claim to “need” such surgeries are to feel more confident with their bodies, to eliminate physical discomfort, and potentially increase sexual pleasure. Research points to other reasons, though.
The increase in access to pornography that idolizes certain body types, recent pubic grooming trends, and the change in society’s stance on plastic surgery may have more to do with it than any reason a patient might present. Society’s pressure to look a certain way has negative consequences for girls and women today and in the future. Keywords: hymenoplasty, labiaplasty, vaginoplasty, vaginal rejuvenation, Elective Vaginal Surgery Introduction The first published description of an aesthetic vaginal labiaplasty was presented in 1983, and since then, requests for procedures like it have increased dramatically.
Whether a woman wishes to “rejuvenate” her vagina after childbirth, alter her labia to make them more symmetrical, remove the clitoral hood or shorten the clitoris, or have a surgery to recreate the hymen, many are choosing to go under the knife to “fix” a part that is usually hidden. The following paper will describe the procedures that are being used to give women what is being referred to a “designer vagina. ” The reasoning behind why these surgeries are becoming more popular will also be discussed, as well as the negative and positive impacts it has on women. What this sort of surgery means for women in the future also will be addressed.
What Is a Designer Vagina? For the majority of women, vaginal surgery is for purely aesthetic purposes. The result is what many have coined a “designer vagina. ” Many women choose to have their labia reduced because they feel self-conscious about the appearance of their labia. They feel that the difference in size of the labia minora relative to the labia majora is unattractive or their labia is just too long. Some women do request labiaplasty because of more physical issues, like problems with hygiene, tight clothing rubbing uncomfortably, or pain during intercourse due to longer labia being pushed and pulled into the body (Davison, 2011).
While most people think of genital mutilation when they hear the term “clitoridectomy,” there are women who choose to have their clitoral hood removed, or their clitoris shortened because they feel that their clitoris is too large, resembling a small penis, in turn making them feel less feminine (Chalker, 2009). Removing or reducing the hood is rarely done as its own procedure, it is sometimes offered during a labiaplasty. Some procedures are preformed not to change the appearance of the vaginal area for the woman, but to change the area in hopes of increasing pleasure for the woman and her partner.
Vaginal rejuvenation and hymen restoration are intended to bring a woman’s genitals back to their original state, before sexual activity and/or childbirth. Vaginal rejuvenation (or vaginoplasty) involves removing part of the lining of the vagina and also tightening the muscles and tissues surrounding the vaginal opening. Hymenoplasty is a surgery that reconstructs the hymen so that women can replicate the feeling and experience of losing their virginity. Women have reported to actually undergo this surgery as a “present” to their partners as a way to re-gift their virginity to them (Chalker, 2009).
Who Is Getting Elective Vaginal Surgery and Why? Vaginal surgeries of this type are receiving more and more recognition as their popularity increases. While some women have actual medical concerns driving them to have surgery, most women choosing to have these procedures are unhappy with their appearance or feel that they need it to enhance their sex life. For years, corrective gynecological surgery has been offered to women who suffer from incontinence or their vaginal canal has begun to sag after childbirth, but non-medically necessary surgeries on women’s genitals is on the rise.
Since vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty are still relatively new techniques, there are not a lot of statistics showing how many are actually performed. The numbers are apparently so low that the American College of Plastic Surgery did not feel they were worth tracking carefully, but noted the following: 800 vaginal rejuvenations were performed in 2005, just over 1,000 in 2006, and the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported nearly 3,500 procedures in 2008.
The numbers are even more skewed because gynecologist perform many of these procedures and collect no statistics on it (Bonavoglia, 2010). Reporting in the UK is a bit more thorough, with the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reporting a nearly fivefold increase in labiaplasties in the last five years (Hogenboom, 2012). Why the sudden increase in popularity? Researchers believe that there are several factors behind the surge. First on the list is the accessibility of pornography that is giving women an unrealistic idea of what their bodies, especially their genitals, should look like.
A video and subsequent article from the Australian news show, “Hungry Beast” (2010), discusses how pornography has led women to believe that their genitals are “abnormal. ” In Australia, labiaplasty has increased dramatically, and Drysdale believes that it has to do with the change in classification of porn in her country. Full frontal nudity is allowed in the “unrestricted category” (M15+) as long as the genitals depicted are “discreet.
” This has led to graphic designers for these magazines performing digital labiaplasty on their models, removing the labia minora or any other “imperfections” that the classification board deems too explicit. Access to pornography isn’t limited to Australia, though. American women see the genitalia of porn stars and automatically think that if their genitals are flawed. King’s University researcher Dr. David Veale comments that this increase in demand for surgery has “to do with the increasing sexualization of society—it’s the last part of the body to be changed” (Davis, 2011).
Another factor believed to contribute to the rise of these surgeries goes hand in hand with pornography, and that is the increase in popularity of waxing. Shows like “Sex in the City” tout the greatness of Brazilian waxes and actually shame women who leave their pubic area “natural” (Donaldson James, 2012). Finally, the stigma that cosmetic surgery used to have is being lifted and many women are under the impression that it’s all right to just change it if you don’t like it.
The 2011 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) shows that cosmetic procedures were up 5 percent in 2011 from 2010. Negative Impacts Surgery Has on Women First and foremost, the physical dangers behind this elective surgery need to be looked at. Like any medical procedure, there are issues that need to be weighed out before proceeding. There is little evidence that labiaplasty or vaginal rejuvenations do anything to enhance sexual pleasure, in fact, one of the potential outcomes of these surgeries is loss of sensation.
Labiaplasty is a minimally invasive surgery performed under local anesthesia, but there are still risks. Bleeding, discomfort, change in skin color in the vaginal area, and loss of feeling can occur. The inner lips (labia minora) are packed with nerves, so removing any of this tissue is counterintuitive to those wanting to get this surgery to enhance pleasure (Chalker, 2009). Some believe that reduction of the glans, or tip, of the clitoris will enhance pleasure, but according to Chalker, since the only function of the glans is sexual sensation this theory is a myth.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists questioned the safety and effectiveness of vaginoplasties and labiaplasties, saying that there is a significant lack of data on the procedures and women need to be better informed about potential complications. Some labiaplasties actually leave the labia more asymmetrical than before, and some women report that they received vaginoplasties that were so tight that sex was painful. Like with all cosmetic surgery, the reasons behind a woman’s desire to have it needs to be addressed.
Many of these women are not properly “diagnosed” before they undergo surgery, and many are “depressed and some are on medication” (Davis, 2011). Psychological examinations are not usually done when women go to private providers and according to Veale, by not doing any sort of preliminary mental exam, psychological disorders like body dysmorphia can be overlooked (Davis, 2011). Donaldson James (2012) reports that girls as young as 11 years old have been brought in for vaginal surgeries and that in doing so, women are being brought up being “misled or confused about what is ‘normal’.
” Positive Impacts Surgery Has on Women While many may argue that all cosmetic surgery does is lend credence to the idea that beauty is only obtained by looking like some plasticized ideal, one can’t help but argue that if the end result is a woman who feels confident, is it really all that bad? A project called Centrefold was launched in 2012 to encourage debate about the increase in women undergoing labiaplasty. The site’s main project was a short film in which three women discuss their surgeries and reasoning behind getting them, as well as how they feel after.
The appearance of their labia was distressing to each of the women, to the point that it caused sever anxiety in one. After the surgery, two of the women were pleased with the results and no longer had anxiety about their appearance. Even if the surgery doesn’t actually create a difference in the physical responses during sex, confidence does a lot to enhance a woman’s sexual experience so the end result may actually be what she was looking for all along. Clearly, if a procedure is intended to help with a physical problem like pain during intercourse, then these surgeries are definitely positive.
Hymenoplasty is a surgery that can actually enhance the lives of women who may be punished if it is discovered that they are not virgins or if perhaps they broke their hymen during exercise or a fall. Some Muslim women must undergo “virginity examinations” and can suffer great shame if they do not “pass. ” For these women, hymenoplasty offers an option to avoid those circumstances. What Does the Increase in This Sort of Surgery Mean for the Future of Women and Plastic Surgery? The increase in popularity in all types of cosmetic surgery, not just vaginal procedures, should be concerning.
While it is important to allow people their freedom and support their choices if surgery is what they desire, the lack of psychological testing of patients and the increase in sexualized imagery exposure needs to be addressed. It’s one thing to decide to have surgery because of a physical issue, but another to undergo a potentially dangerous procedure simply because society says that something about your body is flawed. It is important to recognize beauty in all things, not just in the “ideal,” and we have to teach younger generations to be happy with themselves as they were made in order to ensure a confident, healthy future.
Conclusion The desire to create a “designer vagina” through procedures such as vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and/or hymenoplasty is increasing. While patients claim to do it for medical reasons or to boost self esteem, researchers believe that the surge may have more to do with how society now envisions what female genitalia is supposed to look like. Changes in how women groom themselves as well as the loss of the stigma formerly linked to cosmetic surgery also may have an influence. The risks are high when compared against the limited research behind the positive impact such surgeries may have.
Lack of psychological testing on patients before surgery may also be hiding mental issues that cannot be fixed with a scalpel. Instead of mastering surgical techniques, more time and effort needs to be put into understanding why a woman would feel the need to have such a surgery. As a society we have to push for women to be comfortable in their own skin and appreciate the beauty in their unique selves. References ASPS. (2011). American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2011 plastic surgery statistics report. Retrieved from http://www.
plasticsurgery. org/News-and-Resources/2011-Statistics-. html Bonavoglia, A. (2010, February 24). Cosmetic vaginal surgeons clueless about female sexuality. Retreived from http://www. huffingtonpost. com/angela-bonavoglia/ cosmetic-vaginal-surgeons_b_475929. html Chalker, R. (2009). The ‘perfect’ porn vulva: More women demanding cosmetic genital surgery. AlterNet. Retrieved from http://www. alternet. org/story/141479/ the_%27perfect%27_porn_vulva%3A_more_women_demanding_cosmetic _genital_surgery Davis, R. (2011, February 26).
Labiaplasty surgery increase blamed on pornography. The Observer. Retreived from http://www. guardian. co. uk/lifeandstyle/2011/ feb/27/labiaplasty-surgery-labia-vagina-pornography Davison, S. P. (2011). Labiaplasty and labia minora reduction. Medscape Reference. Retrieved from http://emedicine. medscape. com/article/1372175-overview#aw2aab6b2b1aa Donaldson James, S. (2012). Women are ‘duped’ in quest for perfect vagina, says doctor. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews. go. com/Health/vaginal-rejuvenation-claims-mislead-patients-med.